In each installment of our educational blog series, Anatomy of a Photograph, we’ll break down one of our trickiest wedding photos. From conception to composition, equipment to settings; subject to lighting, you’ll find out exactly what went into creating the image. In this one, we look at how to take nighttime wedding photos.
Earlier this month, we had the pleasure of shooting Carrie and Cody’s destination wedding at Race & Religious in New Orleans. Nola’s always been one of my favorite cities. The food, the music the architecture, and the overall vibe are like no place else on Earth. Long story short, I knew I had to try my best to do this wedding justice.
Body: Nikon D750
Lens: Nikkor 24-70mm f/2.8G
Focal Length: 24mm
Shutter Speed: 1/125 sec.
White Balance: 2630k
I had the idea for this shot by process of elimination. The venue was significantly smaller than the wide open spaces we usually get in Colorado, so there weren’t many places to take the bride and groom away from their guests. During the day, this isn’t too much of a hurdle, because people are generally respectful and don’t interrupt. But once the whiskey and wine start flowing, it’s downright impossible to shoot the couple anywhere near the party.
Earlier in the day, I shot the wedding dress in a particularly photogenic window and thought to myself, “that’s where I should put the couple for night portraits.” It was the bride’s getting ready room, so I knew there wouldn’t be anyone up there during the reception.
The trickiest thing about making a portrait like this is simply getting the newlyweds away from the party. It’s a wedding reception, after all, and everyone is partying and having a good time. The way I handle it is that I keep an eye on the sky throughout the evening until I think it’s about five minutes away from being perfect. In this case, I was waiting for that deep royal blue color to contrast the orange façade of the venue, which was lit by the string lights. Once it was just about perfect, I gave Moira the nod and she snatched up the newlyweds and got them into position.
During this time, I took a moment to lock in my ambient exposure. It came out to f/2.8, 1/125th, ISO 2500. Some might argue that lowering the ISO and lengthening the shutter speed a bit would’ve been the way to go in order to reduce “noise.” But I had only one chance at this, so I wanted to eliminate the prospect of motion blur. Plus, the D750 handles high ISOs exceptionally well.
Finally, I dialed my color balance in to 2630k to account for the warm ambient light.
So once I got my ambient exposure down, it was time to coordinate with Moira. Cell phones to the rescue! I asked her to move the couple until they were in exactly the right place. Then she stood behind the curtain on the left with an SB700 equipped with:
- A MagGrid (to direct the light at the couple and reduce “spill” throughout the room).
- A MagSphere (to soften the light a skosh).
- A full CTO (color temperature orange) gel to match the warm color cast of the string lights.
Once everything was set, I fired away, taking around 50 frames in approximately 2-3 minutes. Keep in mind, from my point of view, the room was completely dark. I couldn’t see the couple at all. They show up in the image only because my strobe popped off every time I took a shot. As a result, I did a bit of “spraying and praying” here because I was essentially shooting blind.
So after I got this image, I thought “what can I do to make it better?” That’s when I had the idea to stand on the dance floor and frame the wedding guests in the foreground to give the image a little more visual interested. It unintentionally became a sort of dichotomy with people dancing to loud music in the foreground and the couple having a quiet little moment in the background. Remember, the room upstairs was completely dark to the naked eye, so the guests had no idea what I was taking photos of.
Once I knew I had a handful of “keepers,” I gave Moira the thumbs up and we let the couple get back to the party. It can be tricky to capture these nighttime portraits, but all in all, it was about a ten-minute process and I came away with a better shot than I had envisioned in my mind’s eye at the beginning of the day.